Hockaday Museum of Art

Kalispell, MT




Michael Spafford: Myths and Metaphors


Cronus and Hercules are the subjects in the works of Seattle Artist, Michael Spafford. His artworks deal with difficult issues of sex, violence, death, force, and grace. Spafford uses the subject of myth as a metaphor to bridge the barriers often present today in the discussion of these powerful subjects. Once the characters of mythology were commonplace in the paintings of nineteenth century artists, before Modernism found its way into the artist's subject matter of the day. Instead of painting mythological gods and goddesses and their mortal victims to avoid direct exploration of the material world, artists of the late nineteenth century turned to the girl on the street to speak more directly about their world.

The works of the Impressionists, from the Symbolists to Cubism, became the new modernism and dealt with the raw subject matter of the world in a straightforward fashion. As Degas explored the sensual moments of the bath and Picasso looked into the psychological void of human experience in a straightforward manner, Spafford returns to classicism as a motif to explore his ideas. Spafford says his work is derived more from idea than personal life experience.

The often-violent issues of rape and sex, as well as murder, take on a once removed place in what becomes a story of a detached subject, such as the story of Leda and the Swan. Leda engages in a sexual affair with Zeus, who appears as a swan. Spafford is able to talk about the enduring issues of emotional and physical conflict between men and women in a metaphorical vocabulary. (left: Leda and the Swan #2, woodcut, 16 x 20 inches)

Michael Spafford says, "I started making paintings that were sort of like an automobile accident. It allowed me to make things more visceral than pictorial." Spafford's exploration of human experience echos the sentiment of a society that has just had too, too much of the brutal reality of daily events that dominate the news and entertainment market. Perhaps the classic revival of the image and the story will evoke a thought process about the subject, rather than that of modern shock value of the image that has been so much rejected by a tired audience today. That age-old saying art imitates life has been taken to a boring excess. We no longer respond to the shock. Our TV is full of stories about sex, violence, murder, rape and every other human struggle possibly imagined. So is the art in many worldwide galleries. These images, these stories are just plain boring. The entire flap about the exhibit in Brooklyn, the Madonna and Elephant Dung or the latest action movie has just moved into a space where they are ignored or should be.

Spafford steps out of the established format and adds mystery and thought to the experience. He speaks about all of the same difficult issues, but with a sense or return to civility. His images are powerful, powerful beyond the shocking brutality of the raw picture. They are transformed by the artist into a motif that deals with the value of design and story. Spafford's Post Modern Classicism is a refreshing departure from the all to boring shock art of today. Perhaps art does imitate life?   

The exhibit is a collection of paintings and woodcuts that deal with the Greek myths of Leda and the Swan, The Twelve Labors of Hercules, and Cronus devouring his children. The exhibit opens at the Hockaday Museum of Art January 15th, 2000 and will be on display through May 27th, 2000. 

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rev. 12/23/10

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